Imperfect carrots

Recently I bought several kilos of organic juicing carrots and I got some really funny-looking ones. I couldn’t resist taking a picture, and as I did I wondered, how many people out there have never seen one of these “strange” carrots and perhaps have no idea carrots can look so different to the ones we normally see in the supermarkets. 🥕.

We live in a world that wants everything to be standard. Has uniqueness lost its value? Today posts is about imperfect veggies and why we should care.

Ugly produce?

First I’ll start with the adjectives we use: imperfect, ugly, odd, wonky, weird. All that really means is real!

Everything in nature is unique, even us, we are all very individual an different human beings and we come in all sizes and shapes. Why do we expect fruits or vegetables to be standard? to have the same shape, size and even colour?

The illusion

In the supermarket, every carrot looks about the same, the apples are always shining, no blemishes or minor insect damage, bananas are about the same size and everything is perfect and beautifully displayed.

That was my shopping reality years ago. I was one of the those people I mentioned above, I bought my fresh food mostly from the supermarket and I hadn’t seen any produce with odd shapes or if I did it was such long time ago (perhaps it could have been when I was a kid and my mum took me to a big farmer market) that honestly I couldn’t remember.

When we started to become more interested in sustainability and my husband in gardening, we decided to attend to food swaps, community gardens with organic practices and even growing some food at home, we quickly realised that veggies and fruit can be very unique, and it is so common to get food with small damage from insects/environment.

What most shops portray is just an illusion, just marketing to sell, which is fair intention as that’s why they are in business, but it brings some consequences.

The issue

For the shops/supermarkets to be able to present only beautiful fresh produce, they need to have strict cosmetic standards, that means they’ll only buy from the farmers food that meet certain criteria. Some of the common aspects they consider important could be colour, appearance, shape, size, maturity, damages (e.g. skin blemishes, marks), insects, pest damage, temperature injury and so forth. Each of this points has very specif rules the providers need to comply.

As you can see, it is easy to understand that only a percentage of the food grown by farmers will be able to pass the criteria to end up in the shelves. So what happened with the rest of the fresh food that’s doesn’t?

Lower price: best case scenario, the food that can’t be sold to the shops/supermarkets will be sold at the lower price. This means that sometimes what farmers get for the food doesn’t even cover the production expenses. I personally buy second grade food from my local shop and it is cheaper than the perfect one, so I am happy to save some money, but is it that fair for the farmers? it takes the same effort to produce a carrot with a funny-looking shape vs. a perfect one.  They are loosing money, time and effort.

Donate: When the food can’t be sold, probably the next best case scenario the food is donated. Some organisations receive this fresh produce and help people in need. This sounds good considering the food is already there, but in reality it is not always feasible to collect and transport the food, so in many instances it doesn’t happen.

Throw it away: The more concerning result, as you are probably guessing by now, it is that the fruit and veggies are just wasted! According to FoodTank:

“Up to 25% of all vegetables produced never leave the farm…Potatoes and Bananas are the most commonly thrown away produce. In Australia, approximately 37,000 tonnes of bananas are discarded from farms every year.”

Food waste is a massive environmental issue, and to me it is really sad to think that one of the causes of food waste in the world is just appearances.

Watch this short video from SBS Australia about this topic.

The chicken and the egg situation?

In programs and documentaries, I have heard repeated times that the shops and supermarkets blame consumers, apparently our expectations drive this behaviour and if the fruits and veggies don’t look perfect, we won’t buy them.

Well, I cannot tell if that’s a generalised truth or not, but certainly our awareness about these issues matter. I think many people, like me years ago, just don’t know much about this topic. If we don’t know we can’t certainly make different choices.

I loved a comment that Rachel from Reusable Planet left on my Instagram account the other day about this topic:

“If it’s consumer choice it’s because we’ve been programmed to look for ‘perfect’ produce by the supermarkets. Just as we have been conditioned to believe we need to put our fresh produce in plastic bags.”

And then again I wonder, which came first, the chicken or the egg?

What to do about it?

  • If you shop in the supermarket that has a special program to sell “imperfect” produce, buy it, save money and help to fight food waste. Here in Australia, Woolworths Supermarket has The Odd bunch program (which is great initiative, but it usually comes wrapped in plastic) also Harris Farm in NSW offer the Imperfect Picks.
  • If they don’t, ask the shop/supermarket about it, talk about imperfect food, request it.
  • Shop somewhere else beyond the big supermarkets, smaller fruit and veggies shops often sell these veggies. Also try farmers markets. I get “imperfect” food every single week as luckily my local shop supports this type of practices.
  • Try, they have a directory to find ugly fruits and veggies in several countries.
  • In many parts of the world, companies are starting to offer boxes of imperfect food by subscription at discounted prices, for instance in USA two examples are Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market. Check if there is anything like this available in your city.
  • Grow some veggies at home. It helps to learn about the process (and appreciate the work that farmers do for us). Also you’ll get imperfect food often. If you have kids, they’ll be keen to see these funny-lucking veggies and learn about them.
Home-grown carrot

Home-grown carrot

“Less shiny, more real. Less show, more soul. Less perfection, more light” – Courtney Carver

That’s it for today, tell me in the comments below, Did you know about this issue? Do you buy “imperfect” fruits and veggies?

We are unique, so are fruits and vegetables, let’s embrace real!!!

Thanks for reading,